Tonia McMillian, CA

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SEIU childcare provider Tonia McMillian, photo © 2010 Slobodan Dimitrov

SEIU childcare provider Tonia McMillian, photo © 2010 Slobodan Dimitrov

For the last 11 years, I have been working to organize our union of family child care providers in California. We started—and continue—with the goal of raising up our profession as we raise up the next generation of smart kids in our family child care homes. Through those years, we’ve had the companionship and encouragement of each other as we’ve reach out to other providers, and worked with parents and child care advocates. We’ve built relationships with legislators and discovered and developed our own leadership skills.

In some ways we’re on the outside looking in. California family child care providers still don’t have the right to bargain with the state over pay and conditions like other workers do. It’s part of a legacy that defines child care, especially in-home child care, as women’s work, as care-giver work, even as black women’s work—not a real job with real rights and real career expectations.

We’ve endured insults from legislators and newspaper columnists and been told by governors that our basic rights as workers must be put aside in the interest of smaller state budgets, giving profitable corporations tax breaks, or piling up rainy day funds. And disappointingly, last year the US Supreme Court in the Harris case chipped away at the ability of family child care providers in other states who have won the right to bargain to form strong and effective unions.

But none of that is stopping us. We are joining together in our union and mobilizing to affect state policies, the state budget, building strong alliances with parents and advocates and community organizations. Through our union we are organizing access to affordable higher education for providers and teachers. And we’re talking to state, city and county governments about how we can win $15 an hour for everyone involved in providing early education and care.

Some of my sister and brother union members work in public schools, and I’m seeing them articulate a new appreciation for their union as the Friedrichs case works its way through the Supreme Court. They value the ability to stand together for a $15 an hour wage floor, for health care for their children, for a secure retirement for people who have spent their working lives sweeping and polishing floors, serving lunches, or coaching students in math and English. Family child care providers have none of that—but we are continuing to organize to improve care for young children and win a solid future for our own families.

As a family child care provider, it continues to be disappointing to have the right to form our union right at our fingertips and not be able to grasp it. But we are not quitters and as some grow tired and need a moment to take a breath, another will always step up and keep the fight going.